For several months earlier this year, a four-member healthcare team worked diligently to help two 64-year-old individuals overcome their addiction to opioids. Adding to the patients’ challenges were the fact they live in a rural West Virginia mining community racked by the opioid epidemic, their access to health care services were slim and the locals’ tolerance for “outsiders” swooping in to “fix things” was nil.
The health care team went to work. One member had an acquaintance in the community who helped them understand its realities, culture and people. They watched a documentary on the opioid crisis in America. They scouted for grants and government funding to support their proposal. Most important, they came up with solutions that utilized local resources.
“We observed the strengths we saw in this community, which in this sense was the nature of them all working together, and then chose to dive in and be creative about how to make what was already there be the most effective,” said Kaitlin Crane, a second-year student in Drake’s Occupational Therapy Doctorate program.
Teammate Lauren Blum, a third-year pharmacy student at Drake, added, “The Appalachia region has had a history of people coming in, telling them what to do, and leaving—resulting in them being sometimes worse off than when ‘help’ arrived. This is what led us to our idea of utilizing the close-knit community to build our program.”
While this scenario was fictional, the team’s approach was a winner in the 2018 CLARION National Case Competition held April 14 at the University of Minnesota. CLARION, a student organization dedicated to improving health care through interprofessional education, began a local competition in 2002 and expanded it to the national level in 2005. Four-member student teams, representing at least two health care disciplines, are provided a case for which they present a root cause analysis and submit a proposal to a panel of interprofessional judges. This year, 16 teams competed for scholarship prizes.
In addition to Blum and Crane, members of the winning team were two students at Des Moines University: Da Hee “Mary” Lee, a dual-degree DMU student in osteopathic medicine and public health; and Autumn Hargraves, a first-year DMU osteopathic medical student.
The team’s presentation stood out because of the depth of its community-based approach. According to Lee, “We proposed having community leaders, who are volunteers passionate about helping their community, get training; increasing local medical providers’ knowledge and public health education; and helping with specific issues like transportation. It was a ‘people helping people’ approach.”
Adds teammate Autumn Hargraves, a first-year DMU osteopathic medical student: “We had patients in the case, but our real patient was the community itself.”
The Drake students brought global perspectives to bear on the community issue: Blum, in particular, applied lessons she learned on a January Term course on global public health at the Pravara Institute of Medical Sciences in Loni, India, during which students discussed the importance of community implementation of health care initiatives.
The teammates agree their varying professional perspectives made working together challenging at times. However in the end that was their strength as everyone had something distinct and valuable to offer.
“There is no way our proposal would have been half of what it was without our unique perspectives coming together,” Crane says. “The utilization and desire of each of us to understand all of our very unique perspectives allowed us to be successful. And I believe in the long run of health care, this is how it should be.”
While the project entailed months of hard work, the students say it was worth it in the real-world knowledge they gained, the research and presentation skills they honed and the connections they made to their studies. They also agree they’ll carry the experience into their careers.
“A big thing I learned while working on this case was that every health care profession is important and has a unique viewpoint that needs to be taken into consideration when tackling huge problems like the opioid crisis,” Blum says.
The experience was powerful as well.
“It’s one thing when you see a situation as a written case,” says Hargraves, “but one of the judges was from that area of West Virginia and had buried six friends in the past year.”
Winning was icing on the cake. “It truly was the most humbling and amazing experience I have ever had,” Crane says. “We were told by the judges following our presentation that if we are the future of health care, then health care is in good hands. This validated our work and showed that we are on the right track in solving health care issues, which is beyond inspiring.”